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42 days after last case, WHO declares Nigeria Ebola free

EU officials seek $1.27b in aid for West Africa

Nigeria’s minister of water resources, Sarah Ochekpe, washed schoolchildren’s hands as part of anti-Ebola effort.
Nigeria’s minister of water resources, Sarah Ochekpe, washed schoolchildren’s hands as part of anti-Ebola effort.(European Pressphoto Agency)

GENEVA — The World Health Organization declared Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, officially free of Ebola infections on Monday, calling the outcome the triumphal result of "world class epidemiological detective work."

The announcement came 42 days after the last reported infection in Nigeria's outbreak, twice the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus.

In Luxembourg on Monday, the European Union committed itself to step up efforts toward getting $1.27 billion in aid to fight Ebola in West Africa and rejected the idea of halting direct flights coming from the region.

The Nigerian response to Ebola was cited by the WHO as an example of the measures other countries can take to halt the spread of the epidemic, which is concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

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"This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained," WHO said in a report on its website. But it also expressed caution that Nigeria cannot relax its defenses against the deadly virus.

More than 9,000 people have become infected and more than 4,500 people have died in the epidemic, and the number of infections is still doubling every month, WHO has reported.

Although infection rates have slowed in some districts of the three worst-affected countries, the organization has also reported the spread of the disease to new areas, including districts of Guinea bordering Ivory Coast.

Nigeria's outbreak started in July when Patrick Sawyer, an American of Liberian descent, traveled by air from Liberia to Lagos, the country's biggest city, starting a chain of infection that spread the disease to 19 other people and resulted in eight deaths.

Sawyer died five days after arriving, but the disease spread to Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil industry hub, after a close contact of Sawyer's flew there for treatment, adding to fears that Nigeria faced what could become West Africa's worst epidemic.

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Nigeria's success in averting that outcome started with the action of Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, a doctor at First Consultant Hospital in Lagos who diagnosed the Ebola virus in Sawyer and later died of the disease.

Together with Benjamin Ohiaeri, the hospital director, Adadevoh had insisted on keeping Sawyer isolated despite threats of legal action by Liberian officials demanding his release.

Other important Nigerian actions cited by WHO included the quick response and close coordination of public health authorities and international organizations to isolate and treat patients, and the detective work of contact tracing teams.

The teams drew on the experience of Nigeria's anti-polio program to identify and monitor on a daily basis nearly 900 people who had contact with those infected with the disease.

Still, Nigeria, like Senegal, which was declared free of Ebola on Friday, is susceptible to new cases by virtue of its proximity to the West African epicenter, health authorities warn.

Nigeria also is at risk of becoming a victim of its success. WHO's representative in Nigeria, Rui Gama Vaz, said Ebola patients in the epicenter may now seek entry to Nigeria in an effort to get lifesaving care.

"Many desperate people in heavily affected countries believe that Nigeria must have some especially good — maybe even 'magical' — treatments to offer," a WHO statement said. Nigeria, with 160 million people, is the most populous country in Africa.

EU foreign ministers set off a week of action on the Ebola crisis on Monday with a pledge ''to play an active role in enhancing the international response'' to the disease. The response so far has been insufficient to contain the deadly virus in West Africa.

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Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain wants a two-day summit of the 28 EU leaders this week to reach the $1.27 billion aid threshold, and agree on topics from more financial aid to common repatriation procedures, more Ebola treatment facilities, and better training for health care workers, the Associated Press reported.

''It's time to act now . . . if we want to limit the amount of cases to an amount that is controllable,'' said Robero Bertollini, the WHO representative to the EU.

So far, the overall anti-Ebola total for the EU, including EU national contributions, stands at $640 million, with Britain contributing $204 million. The Netherlands also promised to send a frigate to West Africa to help, matching a similar contribution from Britain.

''Money is very important, equipment is very important, staff is very important,'' said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Still, EU ministers rejected the idea of scrapping flights from West Africa to keep the virus out of Europe.

''Instead of going to Brussels or to France, [West African] passengers would go to Dubai or elsewhere and come in from there,'' Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France said. ''We would no longer be able to check anything.''

In Spain, officials said nursing assistant Teresa Romero appears to have beaten Ebola but will not be considered virus-free until she is tested again Tuesday. She was among those treating a Spanish missionary who died of Ebola on Sept. 25.

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Officials also said 15 others linked to Romero had no Ebola symptoms.


Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.